VGA Planets Super Site

Shareware VGA Planets
All the stuff you miss out on

VGA Planets is a game in the good old Shareware tradition. You can experience a limited edition of the gameplay for free, which should be enough to get you hooked to the game and cough up the dollars to pay for a registered version. This article will tell you exactly what is and what isn't possible in the shareware version of the game.

Tech levels
The most important restriction for shareware players is in the tech level department. You are basically limited to tech level 6 for hulls, weapons, engines and torpedoes. The only possibilities to get higher tech levels is through natives that grant you a 'free' techlevel of 10 when you build a base over their planet or the engine tech level 7 you get on your homeworld when the game starts. Even if your game is mastered with an alternate master program or universe editor and your homeworld is completely tech 10, the host program will trim it down to 7 for the engines and 6 for everything else.

This is quite an important restriction, as the fastest and most efficient engines are of level 7 and above - for any serious competition, the tech 10 transwarp is the only way to go. The same goes for hulls - although most races have some useful ships of techlevel 6 or lower, any serious battleships require higher techlevels and so do the alchemy ships you will need to keep your economy going. As far as weapons go, in theory it is possible to kick someone's ass with the tech 5 Mark 4 torpedo, but once other people are fielding their registered techlevel-equipped bigger ships or better torpedoes, shareware players are quickly turned into spacedust. The restriction for beams is perhaps the least cause for concern, as they're not *that* important for combat. They do however become very important when facing minefields (countermining only gets you so far) or webmines (people with shareware beams better prepare to kiss their ships goodbye).

Special ships
I was actually quite amazed to see how many of VGA Planets' "special ships" still perform their functions for shareware players. The only ships that do not perform their special functions are the Loki (doesn't decloak) and the Aries (does not convert minerals to fuel). Everything else works like a charm: alchemy ships, terraformers, bioscanners, cloakers, advanced cloakers, glory devices, the Lady Royale, gravitonic accelerated ships, hyperdrives (even make exact jumps), the Firecloud chunnel, the Super Star Destroyer's Imperial Assault and even the Cobol.

'Normal' missions
All the normal ship missions in VGA Planets work just as well for shareware versions of the game. Exploration, minesweeping, laying mines, the Kill mission, sensor sweeping, colonizing, towing, intercepting, they all work.

Race-specific missions and abilities
To cut a long story short: every single mission and ability works for shareware players as well. Super Refit, Hiss, Super Spy and Super Spy Deluxe (keep in mind the Ion Pulse also works normally), Pillage, Rob, Towcapture, Self Repair, Lay Webmines, Dark Sense, The Robot 4x minelaying advantage, Build Fighters in Space, Rebel Ground Attack and the Colonial fighter-minesweeping all work.

Friendly codes
Here we get to the nitty gritty - not all of the friendly codes used in VGA Planets work for shareware players. This means they can perform every mission they want to but often lack the fine-tuning that friendly codes allow.

The codes to make sure a Merlin only produces one type of mineral ('alm', 'ald' and 'alt') do not work. This means a shareware players is forced to produce all three minerals (nine supplies are turned into one of each mineral) and will have to accept he's wasting supplies if it's only one type of mineral he needs. The 'NAL' friendly code to disable the alchemy function of a ship altogether works normally.

Minelaying and -scooping
When laying mines, a shareware player can only lay all of the torpedoes a ship has onboard as mines and he can only lay them in his own name. The codes to regulate a minefield's size ('md1', 'md2', ..., 'mdq' and 'mdh') do not work, neither does the 'miX' code to lay mines in someone else's identity. The 'msc' friendly code in conjunction with the 'sweep mines' mission doesn't work either - it is impossible for a shareware player to scoop up his mines and convert them back to torpedoes.

Making fighters and torpedoes onboard ships
The 'lfm' and 'mkt' friendly codes can be used to produce fighters and torpedoes onboard starships, given the necessary ingredients. This is only half true for shareware players. They can build fighters with the 'lfm' code, but the 'mkt' code does nothing for them.

Beam transfers
Tramsferring money, fighters, or torpedoes from ships is done via friendly codes ('bdm', 'btm', 'btf' and 'btt'). The same goes for transferring money from planets to foreign ships in orbit ('bum'). There are no restrictions here for shareware players, all these codes work for them too.

Alliance codes
It is possible for shareware players to make and break alliances, as the 'ffX' and 'eex" codes work normally. The 'FFx" and 'EEx' codes don't seem to work yet, but that is probably due to the shareware version of Winplan not being up-to-date enough to recognize these in the new RST information.

Combat friendly codes
Shareware players can use the 'NUK' and 'ATT' friendly codes to make sure their planets initiate combat with unwanted visitors. Ships from Shareware players can be sent into battle without using their fighters or torpedoes with the 'NTP' friendly code.

Other friendly codes
It is impossible for shareware players to clone a ship, because the 'cln' friendly code won't work for them. Neither will the 'dmp' code on a starbase allow them to dump old and unwanted parts from the base's inventory. The 'con' planetary friendly code works normally, as does the universal minefield friendly code ('mfX'). Shareware Privateer players will be happy to know they can tow fuelless ships without towcapturing them, with the 'nbr' friendly code.

Winplan restrictions
The restrictions to shareware Winplan seem to be that minefields, Ion Storms and UFO objects are not displayed on the starchart and the hyperline-circle on the starchart consisting of only one line (350 ly radius) instead of the normal three lines (340, 350 and 360). Furthermore, shareware Winplan will only identify up tp 50 ships, while the registered version will show information of up to the maximum amount of 500 ships.

Apart from the techlevel restrictions and the loss of fine-tuning because some of the friendly codes that don't work, there's not all that much that is impossible for shareware players. The Loki's decloaking function won't work which will be a big loss for the Feds and Lizards but good news to Fascists and Privateers. The Aries won't perform it's advanced alchemy function, but since the Cobol works normally the Colonial player won't mind very much. Some people will be more upset than others about cloning not being possible, which doesn't matter at all for the Privateers and Crystals since they can not clone by nature anyway.

The loss of minelaying friendly codes can be overcome by assigning some extra ships on minelaying duties (one ship carries a stack of torpedoes and transfers the desired amount of torpedoes to a second ship each turn). Not being able to scoop up minefields is a nuisance at best, since it makes it harder to 'move' minefields around to keep things unpredictable for the cloakers looking to penetrate minefield defenses.

People have on numerous occasions wondered which is the best race to play with a shareware copy of the game. I'd say there are four races that are easier to play with shareware restrictions than other races:

  • The Robots: The Pawn has a 100% bioscanner to scan for free tech natives, the Instrumentality is the strongest tech 6 ship in the game and they still have their 4x minelaying advantage and free fighters.
  • The Privateers: Robbing and cloaking still work, the Meteor Class Blockade Runner is only tech 5 (get a Ghipsoldal planet and you can build them with transwarp engines) and gravitonic tech 7 engines still allow for travelling 98 lightyears per turn
  • The Feds: Super Refit will help to piece together high tech hulls with high tech engines and/or weapons
  • The Colonis: The Cobol is hulltech 4 so it can be built with transwarps on a Ghipsoldal base, and then tow Virgos with bad engines around. The Cobol still scoops fuel, it's bioscanner still functions too. The Colonies can still build their free fighters and sweep mines with them.

Additional information
For pointers on playing the Colonies with shareware restrictions, read Sammy's guide to playing the Colonies. I know Ronald Portegies (hey! you still out there?) is working on a shareware Lizard guide. If you know of or are working on any other shareware guides or tiplists, drop me a line.

Written on may 2nd, 2002 by Donovan. Not to be copied to other sites without permission.
Everything tested with host 3.22.043a - Not tested: PBx codes (too much of a hassle to set up, and they are supposed to work normally anyway)

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